The Fuel Online

Prior Review and Prior Restraint

Students in the Journalism II class at Hazelwood East High School in St. Louis, Missouri wrote stories about their peers’ experiences with teen pregnancy and the impact of divorce. When they published the articles in the school-sponsored and funded newspaper The Spectrum, the principal deleted the pages that contained the stories prior to publication without telling the students.

Claiming that the school violated their First Amendment rights, the students took their case to the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri in St. Louis. The trial court ruled that the school had the authority to remove articles that were written as part of a class.

The students appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which reversed the lower court, finding that the paper was a “public forum” that extended beyond the walls of the school.  It decided that school officials could censor the content only under extreme circumstances. The school appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States.

In Hazelwood School District v. Kuhlmeier, 484 U.S. 260 (1988), the Supreme Court held that schools may restrict what is published in student newspapers if the papers have not been established as public forums. The Court also decided that the schools may limit the First Amendment rights of students if the student speech is inconsistent with the schools’ basic educational mission.

The case established two policies: prior review and prior restraint. Prior review states the school district has the right to review the publication before it is broadcasted, distributed, printed, or posted online. Prior restraint states administration can ultimately censor students to exclude certain elements in their student publication or broadcast.

If you have any questions, contact Principal Hernandez, at [email protected].